_When the gods went on strike

dios-closed for strikeThe story of humanity began to be told and almost everything was a lie.

Animism and gods

In the Sumerian cities and other settlements scattered around the world, except the Chinese (1), in a few thousand years, many divinities appeared. Some gods built their house in Mesopotamia and that house was called a temple. Some humans came to the temple to serve the god and were called priests. Others went to live in the surroundings; and to that land the name of that God was given. Today we call them cities.

In the previous chapter, Construction of the Enemy (2), we saw that the birth of agriculture and grazing in Mesopotamia was made possible by women, with two million years of socially shared experience working with vegetables and human offspring.

The disappearance of the hunt left the hunter men without that task and at the same time reinforced their value as warriors (3). As animals were known by then, it could be more profitable to capture them than to kill them. So in the raids, increasingly frequent in territories belonging to other gods, they did not kill all the defeated. Those who seemed of some use were brought prisoners to make them work as slaves.

Over time, social structures were created in the many cities that were formed, each with its god, its priests, warriors, craftsmen and slaves.

These social and cultural changes took time. A few thousand years; nothing compared to the more than two million years that had been necessary for the brain of the hominins to double their size, making it easier, for example, to tell stories as we do today.

Animism and magic

The magical perception of the world is a characteristic common to all hunter-gatherer cultures, such as those that still survive in small groups today. It is also characteristic of childhood in modern humans, before they develop their full capacity for rational thinking.

In children, animism arises spontaneously from experience with other living beings and natural phenomena. Children soon learn to differentiate between a live animal, which moves by itself naturally, and a mechanical toy, even if they have very similar shapes and sounds.

The human child learns, at 8 months, that a missing object that has been thrown to the ground, still exists, even if it is not seen. This ability to imagine, exclusive to the human species, was obtained by hominins at the dawn of humanity. It is linked to the abstraction of the general and its persistence as symbolic content, beyond the particular, present in a visible and tangible way.

As with this pipe for tobacco of Magritte: we see the pipe, even if it is not a real pipe, but the visual representation of a pipe. It may happen that we do not even understand the sign with which Magritte warns us that “This is not a pipe”. Because despite the sign, we still see the pipe as if it were real.

Magic, as an art of illusionism and also as an aesthetic experience, is a development of pragnanz: the human capacity to perceive possibilities beyond the obvious that is present. This ability is fundamental in human existence.

That children believe in magic as something really existing, is a necessary phase in the development of their imagination. In philosophical terms, the relationship between being and non-being is dialectic, because in the real world there is a dialogue between them; and between the particular and the general: between the living individual and the species to which he belongs.

The species is an abstraction, an idea that is indicated by a name, of characteristics shared by all individuals of the same species. In reality, the essential characteristic of the species is its genes, which are found in each individual and are very similar; and compatible to reproduce sexually with a couple of the same species. Therefore, now we really see a plant, then in autumn it will disappear and later in spring it will appear again. It is the same plant and it is not. What seems magical is actually biological reproduction. An act of illusionism of nature, which seems that a being becomes nothing and then from nothingness in being.

And the women were there

The women gatherers knew very soon this “spirit” of the plants that came back to life after disappearing in the winter. And they also knew the spirit of life that grew in their own womb, after meeting a man returning from a hunting expedition.

For their part, the hunters knew that the animal they had just hunted would appear again. It would be another animal but, somehow, it would remain the same. Because, being evident that the hunted animal was dead, his spirit must remain alive, and it was that spirit that made him reappear.

Therefore it was important, both for gatherers and for hunters, to get along with the spirits of plants and animals. And better to get along with all the spirits: fire, rain and sun, storms and lightning. And even with the reeds of the river bank, so important to build shelters with mud and other things. Although we find it strange, in Mesopotamia there was even a goddess who was the spirit of the reeds of the riverbank.

We meet again with different levels of the human: between objective reality (relationships between objects regardless of the subject that contemplates them) and the story we build in the mind, socially transmitted (relationships between human subjects mediated by stories told to each other ). That soul of living beings, which floats invisible between the mist of being and non-being, is our own human mind, capable of not only seeing the existing, but also imagining the non-existent (provided it has a name…(4) and sometimes, even if it doesn’t even have a name).

Gods made in the image and likeness of man

In the first millennia of the Neolithic, humans began to shape the most relevant ideas for their own existence. They not only shaped them by assigning them names. They were awarded body, language, thought, feelings, initiative, material activities, need to feed themselves and even work as humans.

Thus, men created deities in his own image; in the image of Man they created them; as Gods and Goddesses they created them.

And naturally, they told stories about their gods. These, unlike the stories that had been told so far, they came to be written down. Thus they have survived until us.

Humans subjected to working for the gods

A different but essentially the same story was born in each Sumerian city, about the city god and his relationship with other divinities. This is the summary account of the Atrahasis poem (5):

“When the gods were still like men,
they had to work wearily
and carry the hampers.
The hampers were bulky,
the work was heavy,
the trouble was big.

The gods tired of working went on strike and burned their spikes and shovels, rebelling against Enlil, the god responsible for the Earth. Then the gods met in assembly and decided to create the humans to do the work that the gods had done so far.

And they did, like that: After killing the rebel god, Goddess Mother Nintur mixed her blood with clay from the earth, thus creating seven men and seven women, who had offspring. In this way the human species began. The painful work of the gods until then, was now imposed on the human race.

This story seems terrible to me because it shows just what it intends to hide. That the human descendants of the hunters turned into workers, engaged in war to subject other men and women to slavery, to do the work they did not want to do. Why work on the ground, if you can force others to do it for you?

Responsibility? None: if was the gods who had created humans to be slaves. What was not told is that not all humans were slaves: only those defeated in wars. But who decided that a city would be defeated and razed ?: The city god, evidently. So to humans who did not want to serve the gods as slaves, it was better to be well with their god. And that’s where the priests came in, responsible for feeding the god with the offerings of his faithful.

If God was happy with his faithful, he would behave well with them and give his warriors victory in battle. That would not only free them from slavery, but would make them return home with enemy slaves who would take care of the most painful jobs for life; and for life of his children. In this way everything returned to order in the best of worlds.

Let’s analyze this icon that would represent the triad of the organization of a Sumerian city.

In the background, the triangle, the most rigid and stable figure. The safest in construction because it never changes shape. The one that can best represent the house of a god.

Within the triangle, the divine eye that watches without rest so that each actor correctly interprets his role. Nothing escapes his gaze (“See that God looks at you, see that he is looking at you, see that you have to die, see that you do not know when.”)

Together with God, the priest: he who knows the truth firsthand. Because he is in charge of feeding God and preparing their room. He knows if God eats the offerings and if they like him. If God is not happy, the priest will be the first to know and will notify the people in time to rectify. That is why he will be the storyteller, like the history of creation of men.

Below is the warrior. Let us observe his nobility: he does not crawl like a slave or like a woman when scrubbing the floor. If his ancestors were recognized as great hunters, his exploits will not be forgotten.


And below all others, the slave, working the land or extracting copper from the mine: what no one would want to do. But that is the divine will. Look how dirty it is. The others do not have such a bad time. Better to look the other way.

Do you see any women? Difficult: women have disappeared and will remain so, invisible for thousands of years.

Next chapter: Creating gods was a mistake.
Agriculture was going to upset the cognitive capacity of humans for good and bad.

See Chapter index


Current chapter NOTES

(1) The Chinese did not personify the forces of nature. They did not create gods, goddesses, or wars between them. They imagined the Tao, a principle that unfolds in two – the Yin and the Yang, which combine with each other and unfold in four, in eight, in 64 situations and these in the “ten thousand things” transforming and growing.

(2) See: Building the Enemy

(3) The disappearance of the hunt did not make the hunters warriors. From the hominins, they combined both functions. But in Sumeria competition for the same lands increased the social value of a prepared warrior. In this regard I appreciate Julián Valle’s comment..

(4) A Basque saying says: “Izena duen guztia omen da” (Everything that has a name exists).

(5) W.G. Lambert and A.R Millard: Atrahasis. The Babilonian Story of the Flood (Oxford, 1968).

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